Enemy Territory: An Away Day with Vancouver Albion
On October 7th, 2023, the Vancouver Whitecaps headed down I-5 for a tilt with Cascadia Cup rivals Seattle Sounders.
A rivalry game this late in the season with playoff seeding on the line hosted in a city a mere three hours down the road is an attractive offer to many, so, along with my fellow members of Whitecaps supporters group Vancouver Albion, we made the trip to cheer on the Caps and take in the game.
Like many others on this trip and many soccer fans across North America, I had never experienced an away day before and wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I stepped onto the bus that morning. Having now experienced it in full, I can safely say that this is an experience all fans of the game should try.
This is what happened on the Whitecaps’ trip to Seattle, and why I believe that all soccer fans should look into taking the time to enjoy an away day watching their club, and what clubs have to gain from helping their supporters organize a trip like this.
At 10:00AM on the morning of the trip, Caps fans who had registered to go met just outside of BC Place Stadium, with everyone getting ready for the impending journey. Armed with an ever-important coffee and croissant, I was greeted by my fellow fans and members of Vancouver Albion, and the excitement for what was to come was palpable. After some instructions and a quick passport check from the trip organizers, we were ready to hit the road and got moving just after 10:30. As we neared the border, the conversation was flowing, with topics ranging from the importance of the impending game to schoolwork and all topics in between. After clearing customs and making a quick pit stop to load up on snacks at a grocery store in Blaine, Washington, the excitement on the bus noticeably ramped up, as we all knew our next stop was going to be in Seattle.
During this stint of the bus ride, entertaining ourselves became an important task. Luckily, not only were the Caps supervisors prepared, but the rest of us were also up to the task. Trivia questions were prepared, with correct answers rewarded with either a tie-dye bucket hat or a pair of sunglasses, both of which were valuable assets to have given the sunny weather that day. Chants demanding a VAR check broke out after one of the questions was answered by someone who had not put their hand up, a clear violation of the competition rules, but alas, no such check could be made.
Chanting was another common theme of the bus ride, with vocal songs breaking out for just about anything interesting or relevant that occurred, or even something as small as someone successfully closing the bathroom door. Albion members also partook in the classic ‘plant pot on his head’ chant, made famous by fans of English side Barnsley FC, with a bucket hat performing as a surrogate for the plant pot. In addition to the chanting and some sing-alongs to classic songs from the FIFA games time seemed to fly by, and by 3:30 we had reached Seattle.
Upon our arrival to the city, we stopped at the Hatback Bar and Grille to enjoy some refreshments, a live band, and mingle with our fellow Caps fans after a long bus ride. Boasting a nice open indoor space and outdoor patio, this was a perfect place to socialize with friends and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere on a beautiful afternoon. The band, by sheer coincidence, performed Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” the Whitecaps club anthem, providing the supporters a great moment singing along to our song together deep in enemy territory. A pumpkin pie eating contest was also held, with four members of our group participating and another representing one of our fellow supporter groups, Rain City Brigade. The contest itself was a scrappy affair, with five minutes to consume a whole pie leading to several participants opting out of buying dinner at the game, and another stating that “coming from a guy who took a pumpkin pie to the face, I can say without a doubt we make better pies.” After that, things started to wind down, and we began to make our final preparations to head to the stadium. Upon being handed some magnets with Whitecaps logos and being given the strict instruction to not place them all over any magnetic surface on the path to the stadium to force Sounders fans to look at our badge, we proceeded to place them all over any magnetic surface on the path to the stadium to force Sounders fans to look at our badge, as well as offering them as gifts to passing Seattle fans, albeit to no avail.
Once we had gathered outside of Lumen Field and finished distributing our magnets across downtown Seattle, we headed inside, placing the remainder of our magnets on whatever surfaces made themselves available on the ramp up to our seats. The away fans were seated in the upper bowl, presumably as a sign of respect for our titles as Kings of Cascadia to seat us above all others inside. After some quick acknowledgement from Whitecaps manager Vanni Sartini and goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka as they took the field for warmups, the chanting began, as we prepared for an important 90 minutes of cheering on the team. After returning to the seats following a brief adventure into the concourse in search of tacos, it was just about time for kickoff, and you could just feel the excitement to cheer on the Caps to a hopeful victory. Expectations may not have been high given that the Whitecaps’ most recent win in Seattle came during the Obama administration, but the anticipation that this could be the day that that changed things heavily outweighed any negative thoughts.
The match itself was a hardly contested, scrappy affair. With close calls on both ends of the pitch, plenty of opportunities from set pieces, and no shortage of fouls being committed, this game truly felt like the late-season derby match it was. In the end, neither team managed to find the back of the net, although Yohei Takaoka did have to perform some minor miracles near the end of the game to keep it that way, and the dust settled on a 0-0 draw.
While the match itself may not have been the most enthralling by any means, the experience itself was still like nothing I’ve ever felt at a match before, even beating the two Canadian Championship finals I’ve attended in the Caps supporters section in terms of experience. The fans who made the trek seemed to have a strong understanding that they needed to be as loud and as passionate as they could possibly be to make themselves heard, and they more than delivered, putting in the most powerful 90 minutes I’ve ever witnessed from a Whitecaps supporters section. One Sounders fan even went as far as to say that the travelling supporters were ‘almost as loud as the Timbers Army’, who are known to be among the loudest supporter groups in the league, but that our group had the more unique chants. Overall, it seemed that the effect of the away delegation was felt throughout Lumen Field and that the support helped the Whitecaps steal a crucial point in a stadium they’ve struggled heavily at in recent years.
As we prepared to head back to Vancouver, more chanting broke out on the bus as we waited to leave the parking lot, but once the bus got going things were much quieter than they were on the way there. Some stayed up and talked, others decided to try to get some sleep after a long day, but one thing remained the same from the ride down: the vibes on that bus were incredible. Maybe it was because we were all so exhausted from the journey, but everything that anyone said on that ride may as well have been the funniest sentence ever spoken. As we reached customs to re-enter Canada, one member of our party reached the front of the line only to turn around and utter the now immortal question “I don’t need my passport for this part, right?”, only to be informed that yes, a passport is required to return to Canada. Upon returning to the bus to retrieve it, all problems were solved, and we began the final leg of the journey home. Just before 2:00AM, we arrived back at Terry Fox Plaza, where we all said our goodbyes and began making our way back home from there to finally get some sleep.
Having now experienced an away day, I can safely say that I will be attending more in the future. The time spent bonding with friends over the experience and our shared love of the club will not be forgotten quickly, and the memories will remain for years to come. The Whitecaps organization is owed a big thank you for organizing this, and it would amazing to see more clubs – be it MLS, CPL, or any other league – try to organize similar events for their fans. This trip made me feel a deeper connection to the Whitecaps as a club, and I think the same is true of the others who came on the trip. If more soccer clubs started helping make sure their supporters can get an experience like this every few years, it would help fans create a stronger bond with the club and a stronger sense of unity with the group they go on the trip with.
Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible, and I hope to be among the Caps on tour for many an away day in the future.
Header Image Photo Credit: Daniel Mao